The documentary Bones Brigade chronicles the formation of the groundbreaking skate team of the same name, a squad that included pioneering skateboarders like Steve Caballero, Rodney Mullen, and Tony Hawk among its ranks. In addition to helping turn skateboarding into a multibillion-dollar international industry, the team was also responsible for inventing some of the sport’s most foundational tricks, from fundamentals like the ollie to more daring aerial maneuvers like the McTwist. One guy would pull it off, and the rest of team would then try to perfect it for their own repertoires. But if they’d been privy to the new skate-trick visualizer Skataviz, they might have been able to save their bones some bruising.
The software, developed by creative studio Design I/O, turns skateboard tricks into handsome visualizations. As riders kick, push, jump, and scrape their decks, those movements are tracked in three dimensions. And after a little manual mapping, the software renders the ride as a series of colorful shapes and annotated arrows, either on its own or mapped over a video of the run itself.
But the elegant output relies on a comically crude setup for gathering its hard data: an iPod Touch taped to the bottom of the skateboard. The iPod’s gyroscope and accelerometers are responsible for all the motion-tracking data, and while it may look like some sort of extreme-sports IED, the setup gets the job done. As Theo Watson, a partner at I/O explains, "we generally love to take common, mainstream technology and find unusual creative uses for it."
The software is currently in a prototype stage, and even though it’s already producing impressive results, Watson has plenty of ideas for how to improve the system. Right now, matching the motion data to the video requires a bit of manual mapping, though they’re considering a more sophisticated system that could automatically calculate the video clip’s perspective and overlay the data accordingly.
"For the next version we might look at adding some sort of reference tracking markers to the board," Watson explained, like miniature Playstation Move wands, for example. "But anything physical is tricky," he pointed out, "as it alters the balance of the board and makes the skater’s job a lot harder." It’s an important consideration, keeping the skateboard as unencumbered as possible. After all, the visualizations will only be as cool as the tricks that generate them.
Watson says when they’re satisfied with the software, they might release it in the App Store, giving skaters a chance to record runs with their own iPods and then play them back on the device. "We’d also love to work with a skate company to develop a board that could have a built-in slot for the iPod or iPhone," he says. Understandably, not everyone might be so eager to tape their beloved gadget to the belly of their board.
But Watson’s longer-term ambitions for the software are even more exciting. For one thing, he wants to improve its ability to analyze the data it’s showing. He imagines building a database of tricks that Skataviz could automatically cross-reference with the movements it’s recording, allowing the software to call out exactly what maneuvers the rider is executing in real time. And while it currently works best with street skating, Watson says the half-pipe might be the next area to conquer. "We’ve had a few people already suggest that it could be interesting for something like the X-Games," he says, "to be able to visualize the data on TV during a live event."
Very cool. And, potentially, an even more satisfying way for me to continue enjoying extreme sports at a remove, bones intact.